Posts tagged ‘faith’

People Today Believe in God

“I have the suspicion that men today believe in God more than at any other time in human history. Men know the Gospel, the teaching of the Church, and God’s creation better than at any other time. They have a profound consciousness of His existence. Their atheism is not a real disbelief. It is rather an aversion toward somebody we know very well but whom we hate with all our heart, exactly as the demons do.” — A. Kalomiros, THE RIVER OF FIRE [taken from Slava Bogu (Слава Богу за всё) on Facebook]

The suspicion of Dr. Kalomiros expresses exactly what I have thought as well (caveat – I have not read the book from which the quote was taken, so I am merely making a few comments on the content of the quote). We live in an age when more people than ever have been exposed to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. More people have exposure to the teachings of the Church; more people know more about Christian Faith and doctrine and life than ever before. Because of our various advances in science, we know more about the physical creation than ever before in human history. Not only do we know more now, but our knowledge increases exponentially year by year. As Kalomiros writes, people today have a “profound consciousness” of the existence of God. Our science has done nothing but prove, continually, that this magnificent creation could not be without a Creator. God is real, and more people know this today than ever before.

The problem is not knowledge – people do not fail to believe, but rather they hate what they know. The rampant “atheism” of today is not true disbelief, but is the same affliction that the demons deal with. The demons know God is real, but they choose to reject Him. Great numbers of our contemporaries reject God as well. He is rejected because of the life He calls us to live. If He were to be acknowledged, then a radical transformation would take place in peoples’ lives and in our society. In short, God is so rejected and reviled today because people want to do whatever brings them pleasure. People want to determine their own course in life, and to make all of their own decisions. The heartbreaking reality, however, is that in following this course people become slaves to their passions, instead of finding true freedom and personhood in Christ.

Even those of us who acknowledge our Lord and profess ourselves as Christians have to keep this in mind – the will of God is what we are called to seek and to submit to at all times. We are not to rely on our own will and our own wisdom, but to submit ourselves to God. Those who reject God do so for exactly this reason – it is a refusal to submit to anyone other than themselves. May He protect us all from this demonic pride. May God give us all the grace to truly seek Him in everything in our lives.

Author Matthew Jackson

Confess Him with your mouth, and believe Him with your heart

Me preaching this homily at St. Luke’s Orthodox Church in Anniston, AL

[Preached at St. Luke Orthodox Church in Anniston, AL]
Romans 10:1-10; Matthew 8:28-9:1
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Christ is in our midst! He is and shall be!

This morning, in our reading from St. Paul’s Epistle the Christian community in Rome, the Apostle very simply speaks to us about those things which are required for our salvation. These words of St. Paul are often mis-interpreted, and we see all varieties of mis-interpretation in Christian groups surrounding us today. In the Orthodox Church we don’t simply look to the words of the Scriptures and then understand them in whatever way we choose – our understanding of St. Paul’s words is influenced by the way they’ve been understood by Christians for the last 2000 years. We don’t stand as individual islands of interpretation, because that quickly leads to schism (as seen by the thousands of various groups claiming Christianity) and absurdity. We also understand the words of the Scriptures (and the writings of the Father’s) within the larger context of the witness of the Church – in other words, we can’t simply take this morning’s reading and allow it to stand on its own – it stands within the context of all of St. Paul’s writings, and all of the writings of the Scriptures and the Fathers.
So, I thought this morning that we could quickly step through our Epistle reading, and remind ourselves of what St. Paul says is necessary for our salvation in this particular reading, and see these words in the larger context as well. The larger part of the Epistle reading has St. Paul reminding the people about their (and our) relationship to the law. This conversation leaves people baffled – Paul insists repeatedly in his Epistles that we are set free from the curse of the law in Christ, yet he also reminds us that we are called to follow in the commandments of Christ. When St. Paul speaks of “the law,” he is, of course, speaking of the Old Testament law. These laws covered all sorts of things that the people could and couldn’t do. And so eventually, the people’s focus settled not on trying to please God, but on simply attempting to follow the outward constructs of the law. As St. Paul says in the Epistle, they were trying to obtain righteousness on their own.
This is the fall of Adam all over again – trying to be like God, trying to be good and righteous and holy, but doing it on our terms and by our own strength. This is why St. Paul refers to the law as a curse – the law set forth the things that needed to be accomplished in the sight of God, and no one could do it. The law condemned the people because they were unable to keep the law. God knew that the people would fail, and so before the time of our Lord, sacrifices were offered  by the priests to cover the sins of the people. The people were not actually made righteous by the sacrifices, but their sins were covered over in the sight of God.

St. Paul reminds us this morning that our relationship with God as Christians is not this Old Covenant curse. We are not struggle to keep the laws of the Old Testament. We are not responsible in our works to attain to the righteousness of Christ. No longer are external works and sacrifices necessary for our righteousness, rather now we are made whole by our relationship with Christ. St. Paul writes, “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart.” God is no longer exterior to man – He has become man in the person of Jesus Christ, and our humanity is united to the Godhead in Christ for all of eternity. Now God no longer dwells in a temple made of human hands, rather now He dwells in the temple of our hearts.

And so at the end of our Epistle, St. Paul writes, “if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” (vv 9-10) These verses have become a great source of confusion for many, leading them to assume that the way we live is irrelevant to our salvation, and that we simply need to confess one time that we believe and we will be saved. But this is not at all what St. Paul says, and certainly not when we take this verse in the context of all of the writings of St. Paul. St. Paul joins confessing Christ with our mouth to believing Him in our heart. We are being called to confess with our mouth the Lord Jesus Christ – and this confession is to be a continual confession of our reliance on nothing in this life other than the mercy and grace of God. And if our confession is Christ, and if this confession is true – is from the belief in our heart, then our lives will reflect Christ.

If we confess Him, and we mean it, then that confession will be evident in our lives. Remembering that our Lord said “if you love Me, keep My commandments” (John 14:15). There’s no dichotomy in the Orthodox Church between faith and works – if our faith is real, then the works of God come as a part of that – that is why the various New Testament Epistles can say both “without faith you will not be saved” and that “without works you will not be saved.” Faith and works come as a package deal.

And so how will our lives look if we are properly confessing Christ with our mouth and properly believing Him with our hearts? There’s a very nice line in this morning’s Gospel to express it (nice line, but also very difficult): “What have we to do with You, Jesus, You Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the time?” (Matthew 8:29) Following the commandments of Christ means that we torment sin in our flesh, we becomes slaves of Christ and of the Gospel (as St. Paul teaches in other places). Living in Christ, truly confessing Him and truly believing Him, means that we leave no place for sin in our lives – all we have to rely on in every time and in every place is our Lord and God and Saviour Jesus Christ.

May we all confess Him with our mouths and believe Him with our hearts, and may our lives daily reflect the image of Christ within us.

Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!

Author Matthew Jackson

Homily on Matthew 17:14-23

  • Text of Gospel Reading
  • In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
    Christ is in our midst!
    If you spend much time reading the Scriptures, the sequence of events and the Apostles’ actions will begin to amaze, even flabbergast, you. Two weeks ago (on August 6) we celebrated the Feast of the Transfiguration of Christ. This morning’s Gospel picks up a mere 5 verses later, with the Lord and His Disciples having just coming down off Mt. Tabor. The Disciples, three of them having just experienced the Transfiguration, having just seen the revelation of the fullness of the glory of God in Christ, are presented with a test. Scripture teaches us that gifts from God—like the Apostles experience on Mt. Tabor—come with testing, to help us preserve what we’ve received and to continue to grow. So the Disciples are faced with a test. A man brings them his son, who suffers from epilepsy. He says the boy often falls, or throws himself in other Gospel accounts, into fire and into water. Not only is the boy afflicted with a terrible, and at that time totally untreatable disease, his family also has to fear for his bodily safety because of the things he does when he suffers from his illness. So this man, having obviously heard of Christ, heard that Christ is a great healer and teacher, some even say He’s the Messiah. So with this knowledge, the father brings his son to Christ. Actually, St. Matthew says he first brought the boy to Christ’s disciples. The disciples were already known by their association with Christ, and they had already been given the power to cast out demons and to heal the sick. But the disciples were unable to heal the boy. What a terrible moment in time that must have been—living and working with the Messiah, witnesses of the full glory of God, they were unable to do one of the things He gave them power to do. So the man brings his son to Christ, tells Him of the terrible affliction the boy suffers, and tells Him that the disciples were unable to help. Perhaps He could help the boy. Then Jesus says some startling words—“O perverse and faithless generation…how long shall I bear with you?” He then has the boy brought to Him, casts out the demon, and the child is cured. Later, in private, the disciples ask, “Why couldn’t we heal the boy?” Christ goes back to the startling words He spoke at the miracle—“Because of your unbelief…if you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you.” In another of the Gospel accounts the contrast between belief and unbelief is made even stronger. Before the miracle, Christ asks the boy’s father—“do you believe I can do this?” And the father responds—“Lord I believe, help Thou my unbelief.” It’s astonishing that after all they have witnessed, the miracles, the feedings, the healings, even the Transfiguration, that the disciples could still be told that they don’t believe. What does Christ mean when He tells them they lack faith? Sometimes we like to approach the Christian life in very much the same way we approach everything. If it makes sense, then it must be right. If I see some proof, then I can believe. So we read the Bible, we “understand” it, we accept the witness of the Church Fathers, our elders, even our own experiences with God. And therefore we believe. But in the Scriptures we’re reminded that the wisdom and way of God is not the wisdom and way of men. The Apostles have no problem believing when Christ is standing before them in glory, or when He’s performing miracles before their very eyes. But when it comes to believing that they also have been given this power, their faith suddenly falters. But it made sense, they saw it, they lived it. But when it came right down to it, they still lacked true faith in Christ. Christ told them if they even had the tiniest bit of faith, like a mustard seed—which is called the smallest of all seeds in the Scriptures. If they even have a tiny amount of faith, nothing would be impossible for them. In fact, in another passage Christ tells them they will do greater things than He does by the power of the Holy Spirit. Faith is not rational acceptance and understanding. If it were, the disciples would have had no problem healing the epileptic boy. They knew Jesus could do it. The faith Christ is speaking of is giving of oneself wholly to Him. If the disciples had fully dedicated themselves, in every way, to Christ, they could have healed the boy. And in fact, after the Resurrection, they do give themselves over entirely to God’s will. Performing countless miracles, spreading the Gospel message, and even dying for Christ. Faith is not believing what you see when you see it, that’s common sense. Faith is believing that every word of Christ is True, and then living those words.
    Christ calls us not only to believe in Him, that He’s real and the stories in the Bible are true. Christ calls us to believe on Him—to believe the promises He made to us and then to live like we believe those promises. “Don’t worry about your clothing or your food, the Father will care for those things,” Christ said. “I come that you might have life, and have it more abundantly,” He preached. “Anything that you ask in My name, the Father will grant it.” “Where two are three are gathered in My name, I am in the midst.” Do we live like these promises are being fulfilled? Christ came to offer us life. To offer us the chance to be entirely healed of our sin, our evil self-destructive desires. And being healed of the broken-ness of this world, brings man life abundantly both in this world and in the next. But we have to see things through the lens of the Gospel. Abundant life in the Gospel is communion with God, regardless of the physical and material situations we find ourselves in. Placing our entire life into the hands of Almighty God. And that’s not an easy thing to do. We like to be in control of ourselves. To hold back little things for me. But Faith of the sort Christ preaches is Faith that keeps nothing for itself, but offers everything to Christ. Faith that begs, “Not my will, but Thine.” Faith that lives, ”It is no longer I, but Christ that lives in me.” True faith in God is not just a belief that the words of the Bible are true, God is real, and maybe I can go to heaven by admitting that. It wasn’t too long ago that even society felt it only common sense to acknowledge the existence of God. True faith is living the commandments of Christ, and knowing that God is faithful and just in all that He has said. In striving for this faith, our prayer should mirror the prayers of those in Scripture, many of which we’ve already mentioned. “Lord I believe, help Thou my unbelief.” “Not my will, but Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” “Lord help my will to be overshadowed by the life of Christ in me.” The only way to have true life, true healing, to be truly human, is to be “a little Christ.” “Lord, we believe. Fill our unbelief with the fullness of Thy eternal life.”
    Glory to Jesus Christ.